September 27 is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Despite advances in behavioral and biomedical interventions, HIV infection remains a persistent problem in the United States with an estimated 50,000 new infections annually. The transmission of HIV continues to significantly impact men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States, representing 63% of all new infections in 2010, with minority MSM bearing the heaviest burden. In Los Angeles County (LAC), surveillance data from the Department of Public Health reported that MSM accounted for 84% of new infections. Mirroring national statistics, LAC witnessed a disproportionate incidence of infection among minority MSM. A variety of factors continues to drive infection rates in these communities including higher HIV prevalence, as well as higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI), which may contribute to increased chances of exposure. Culturally, the stigma around HIV creates barriers, which can dissuade engagement in HIV prevention services. Additionally, the inability to obtain health insurance can result in limitations to treatment, as well as poor uptake of HIV testing. In order to address these ongoing transmission rates, innovative efforts are vital to tackle this epidemic.
Traditionally, behavioral interventions have focused on HIV/STI test counseling, risk reduction, and promoting condom use to create awareness and education around HIV transmission and prevention, leading to the aptly named HIV Prevention Toolbox. Recently this toolbox has expanded to include biomedical strategies that address HIV acquisition, recognizing that a multi-tiered approach is essential in reducing HIV infection rates. Researchers have made advancements in introducing new biomedical interventions as forms of HIV prevention to at-risk populations. In 2012, the FDA approved daily oral Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV; a huge breakthrough for HIV prevention efforts and today remains the only HIV antiretroviral approved by the FDA for HIV prevention. As we continue to add to the repertoire of The HIV Prevention Toolbox, further research on biomedical interventions will include testing neutralizing antibodies to prevent HIV infection, as well as identifying other HIV antiretrovirals that can be used for HIV prevention. These groundbreaking advances offer at-risk populations an array of options as part of their toolbox, as well as alternative means of protection against HIV.
To find testing sites and other HIV services near you, visit our website: UCLA Vine Street Clinic.